Rosemary is, perhaps, the most storied of all herbs. It is featured prominently in the myths and legends of ancient Greece and Rome where it was revered more for medicinal than culinary usage. It played an important role in both wedding and funeral rituals, symbolizing love, loyalty, friendship, and remembrance.
Native to the rocky, coastal areas of the Mediterranean region, rosemarinus officinalis is a member of the mint family. It has a pungent, woodsy, sweet pine-like aroma that is unmistakable. The essential oils of its stem and dark green needle-shaped leaves are used in perfumes, soaps, cosmetics and aromatherapy.
Buying & Storing Rosemary
Fresh rosemary is widely available year round. Look for sprigs that are rich in fragrance with bright, evergreen leaves. Soft and flexible stems yield a more tender, sweeter, less astringent leaf than woodier stems. Avoid leaves with yellow or brown edges and tips.
Rosemary leaves are more tolerant of the refrigerator’s chill than basil or cilantro. The best storage technique to place the sprigs, stem end down, into a tall glass or cup with just enough water to cover the ends, about a half-inch or 1.25 centimeters. Store in an upper shelf of the door and replace the water frequently. Fresh sprigs should last 7-10 days. For longer storage, rosemary can be dried or frozen in ice cubes.
Cooking with Rosemary
Rosemary is a lot like that friend or family member who insists on being the center of attention. Its strong, pungent flavor has a tendency to dominate, and too much can impart a medicinal taste. So use sparingly and pair with other strong flavored foods.
Rosemary is at it’s best when freshly cut, but when using it dried, use one-third to one-half as much. It can withstand long cooking times without flavor dissipation, which makes it perfect for soups, stews and sauces.
Since the leaves can be difficult to chew, it is best to finely chop or mince them or use a whole sprig as you might a bay leaf, retrieving it before serving.
The woody portion of bared stems can be used as skewers and will impart some flavor but most of the essential oils are found in the leaves. The fragile flowers, which are usually bluish-purple, pink or white, depending on variety, are very mild and can be used in salads.
French and Italian cuisines favor rosemary. It is one of the stars of Herbs de Provence, and Italians love it with vegetables, particularly potatoes. A small sprig added to Amatriciana sauce, gives it a dimension basil cannot. For the simplest of pleasures, place a sprig in a small bowl along with one crushed clove of garlic, cover with a good quality olive oil and use for dipping bread.
Rosemary pairs well with assertive flavors like lamb, grilled meats, swordfish, garlic, lemon, and tomatoes, but it also works with blander foods that don’t compete for star billing, such as potatoes, breads, poultry, and beans.
Other strong pairings include butter, cabbage, eggs, mushrooms, onions and wine. Herb pairings include, lavender, marjoram, parsley, sage and thyme.